Power Ranking Top 25 College Football Stadiums of 2015

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2015

Power Ranking Top 25 College Football Stadiums of 2015

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    Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium
    Alabama's Bryant-Denny StadiumMarvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

    Technological advances have made it so that watching a college football game at home is almost like being there in person.

    Almost.

    No camera lens or field microphone can fully replicate the atmosphere that can be found at certain college stadiums, especially when they're packed to the gills with a raucous crowd voraciously cheering on the home team. The experience of being there is a major enhancement, with the stadium itself contributing to that feeling in so many ways.

    Not every stadium is the same, though. Some are better than others, worthy of being considered one of the best in the country.

    We've ranked the top 25 FBS stadiums, factoring in their size, noise level and ambiance. Only facilities where the college team is the primary tenant were considered, since the aura at places like Heinz Field in Pittsburgh or Sun Life Stadium in Miami is far greater for NFL games than college ones.

25. TDECU Stadium

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Location: Houston

    Opened in: 2014

    Capacity: 40,000

    While Baylor's McLane Stadium got plenty of attention when it opened last August, a few days earlier Houston opened its own swanky on-campus facility. A crowd of 40,755 was on hand to watch the Cougars take on UTSA, but most of them went home disappointed when the home team was thumped, 27-7.

    Houston would go on to win four of seven games in TDECU Stadium, named for the largest credit union in the city. It marks the fifth different facility the Cougars have called home over the years, the fourth since 1997, including the Astrodome and Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans).

    At $120 million, TDECU Stadium cost less than half of what Baylor paid to build its facility.

24. Bright House Networks Stadium

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Location: Orlando, Florida

    Opened in: 2007

    Capacity: 45,323

    A visit to Orlando shouldn't only be spent at Disney World and the various other theme parks. If UCF is playing a football game during the fall, a trip to Bright House Networks Stadium will make for a nice break from standing in line to get on a ride or see some whales.

    After spending the first 28 years of existence playing in (but rarely coming close to filling) the Citrus Bowl, the Knights finally got their own on-campus stadium as part of a massive athletic village known as Knights Plaza that also included a basketball arena.

    Though one of the newest stadiums in the country, the way it was built makes it possible for the entire facility to flex when fans jump up and down. As a result, it's commonly called the Bounce House.

23. Lane Stadium

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    Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

    Location: Blacksburg, Virginia

    Opened in: 1965

    Capacity: 65,632

    As the home of a football team that represents a polytechnic university, Lane Stadium isn't exactly the most awe-inspiring piece of architecture and design. But what it might lack in appearance it makes up for in atmosphere and chill-inducing moments.

    This is particularly the case for opposing teams when backed up near the south end zone, which has more than 11,000 fans almost hanging over the field belting out boos in hopes of impacting the play. Not surprisingly, a great number of Virginia Tech's many blocked kicks it has recorded in coach Frank Beamer's 28-year tenure have come in this area.

    Located more than 2,000 feet above sea level in the southwest portion of Virginia, Lane Stadium had the highest elevation of any FBS stadium in the eastern half of the United States until Appalachian State moved up from FCS in 2014.

22. Michie Stadium

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    Location: West Point, New York

    Opened in: 1924

    Capacity: 38,000 

    Army has had only one winning record since 1996, and in most years the Black Knights aren't close to being bowl-eligible. Their home record isn't very good, either, but not because the stadium isn't a great one to play (or watch) a game in.

    Michie Stadium has been well-maintained by the U.S. Military Academy over the years, and is a "cozy place on a Saturday afternoon with a gorgeous backdrop and terrific atmosphere with all the cadets," writes Bryan Fischer of NFL.com.

    Based alongside a reservoir and surrounded by lush greenery, even if Army isn't getting it done on the field there's not a bad view in sight.

21. Glass Bowl

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Location: Toledo, Ohio

    Opened in: 1990

    Capacity: 26,248

    Great stadiums don't always have to be huge ones, at least not in terms of attendance. Toledo's Glass Bowl is the 16th-smallest of the 128 FBS stadiums and in the bottom half among teams in the Mid-American Conference.

    But just because the Glass Bowl doesn't have many seats doesn't mean it hasn't been the site of big games, or played host to Rockets teams led by future big-name coaches. Alabama's Nick Saban and Missouri's Gary Pinkel both began their head coaching careers at Toledo.

    Built originally with stone but given plenty of upgrades over the years that featured notable glass elements, in honor of the city of Toledo's glass industry, the stadium was renamed from University Stadium in 1946.

20. Albertsons Stadium

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    Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

    Location: Boise, Idaho

    Opened in: 1970

    Capacity: 36,387 

    Boise State didn't join FBS until 1996, but it had made quite a name for itself a decade before that when the school made the bold decision to install blue turf in its stadium.

    The oft-called "smurf turf" has become synonymous with the Broncos, and while the rest of Albertsons Stadium (known as Bronco Stadium until 2014) isn't as impressive as other facilities the playing surface remains as recognizable as ever. Eastern Michigan added gray turf in 2014, and several FCS schools have gone away from green, but Boise is still the...blue standard.

    Because the field could look like a large body of water from far above—except for the many large non-blue logos—urban legends have formed that birds have crashed into it thinking it was a lake. This hasn't ever been proven, though.

    "We do our best to perpetuate that myth, so to speak," then-Boise coach Chris Petersen said in 2007, per LostLettermen.com.

19. Doak Campbell Stadium

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    Phil Sears/Associated Press

    Location: Tallahassee, Florida

    Opened in: 1950

    Capacity: 82,300

    The ACC's largest venue is also one of the largest continuous brick structures in the country, according to Tim Newcomb of Sports Illustrated.

    "From glorified erector set to massive brick structure, Doak Campbell Stadium underwent an overhaul in the 1990s that completely changed the game-day experience," Newcomb wrote.

    More than 3 million bricks were used in an expansion project that coincided with the Seminoles becoming a consistent power that remains today with its recent 2013 national championship and run to the semifinals last season. Further additions have upped the capacity from just over 60,000 to its current size, with a record crowd of 84,409 on hand for a November 2013 blowout of rival Miami.

18. Williams-Brice Stadium

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    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Location: Columbia, South Carolina

    Opened in: 1934

    Capacity: 80,250 

    The Head Ball Coach helped put South Carolina on the map in terms of being a college football power, but Williams-Brice Stadium already had the Gamecocks high up on the list of teams with great venues long before Steve Spurrier came to Columbia.

    Though not on campus—it's about a mile away—it's considered part of the community that turns into a giant tailgate for every home game. It's also been one of the toughest places to win in the country, as prior to dropping three games there last season the Gamecocks had won 18 straight in Williams-Brice.

    With tall, gently sloping upper decks, the stadium is quite wide along the sidelines and has been known to sway near the top during loud and exciting moments.

17. Jordan-Hare Stadium

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Location: Auburn, Alabama

    Opened in: 1939

    Capacity: 87,451

    The most famous thing (not including humans or birds) associated with Auburn football is Toomer's Corner, where the famed oak trees get rolled with toilet paper after every victory. A close second is Jordan-Hare Stadium, where fans cram into for Tigers games and then pour out en route to Toomer's afterward.

    Now only the seventh-largest stadium in the SEC thanks to expansions by rivals throughout the league, Jordan-Hare is approaching "cozy" status in terms of capacity but it's no less loud or imposing for opponents. And when Auburn is playing its best, that crowd is providing plenty of support for the team and making it very difficult for the visitors to focus.

    Plans are in the works to add more bells and whistles but not seats, athletic director Jay Jacobs said during the SEC's spring meetings last week in Florida, per James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser.

    "We're not talking about expanding the capacity of our facility, of our football stadium; we're talking about a higher-level seat in some areas: suites, club level, and also a better experience also for the guy sitting in the front row," Jacobs said.

16. Memorial Stadium (Nebraska)

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Location: Lincoln, Nebraska

    Opened in: 1923

    Capacity: 87,000

    The "Sea of Red" hasn't had an official empty seat since 1962, a string of 340 consecutive games in which Nebraska has sold out Memorial Stadium that is far and away the NCAA record for a football team.

    Capacity has grown from 31,080 to its current tally during that streak, and last season more than 91,000 Cornhuskers fans wedged themselves in to watch a 41-31 win over Miami (Florida).

    Considered the unofficial third-largest city in the state on game days, Memorial Stadium rarely disappoints for those in attendance.

15. Kyle Field

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Location: College Station, Texas

    Opened in: 1927

    Capacity: 102,512

    When Texas A&M made the move from the Big 12 to the SEC, it wasn't messing around. The school wanted to be among the biggest and best in the country, from an athletic standpoint, and that included its facilities.

    When the Aggies host Ball State on Sept. 12 it will be in a stadium that has moved up to No. 4 in the country among college football capacity and first in the SEC. Kyle Field held just short of 83,000 seats during its final Big 12 season in 2012, which would have put it seventh in the conference.

    "Because Texas A&M deserves the finest collegiate facilities and the goal is to build the greatest venue in the history of college football," the school notes on a website devoted to the construction project. "Millions of people see Texas A&M University through football Saturdays in the fall and this facility will make a statement that the Aggies do not settle."

    The added seats only enhance the atmosphere in a stadium already lauded for its devoted fanbase—known as the 12th Man—and the famed yell leaders who incite the crowd into a frenzy and direct their cheers.

14. Neyland Stadium

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

    Opened in: 1921

    Capacity: 102,455

    Not a big fan of orange? Then avoid Neyland Stadium during the football season, or any of its general vicinity in Knoxville, including the Tennessee River that runs alongside the facility and is inundated with "sailgating" fans decked out in their best and brightest hues.

    While Tennessee's football team hasn't been very good for a while—though the 2015 Volunteers could be pretty strong if Butch Jones' youth movement keeps producing results—that hasn't made the experience inside Neyland any less special. As many as 109,061 fans have packed into what was originally a 3,200-seat structure with just one grandstand.

13. Bryant-Denny Stadium

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    Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

    Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

    Opened in: 1929

    Capacity: 101,821

    Bryant-Denny might not longer be the largest stadium in the SEC, not after Texas A&M is done piling more decks onto Kyle Field. But at least it's got a shot at remaining the largest wedding reception venue in college football's hotbed, until maybe someone in A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's family wants to get married.

    Last weekend saw Alabama coach Nick Saban's daughter, Kristen, wed Adam Setas in a quaint ceremony in Tuscaloosa. Then the festivities were moved to where her father normally spends Saturdays leading the Crimson Tide to victory rather than dancing or giving toasts.

    On the non-nuptial front, Bryant-Denny is as magnificent a football stadium as you'll find anywhere, SEC or beyond. Holding only 18,000 seats when it opened 86 years ago, it's expanded eight times and topped the 100,000 mark in attendance for the first time in 2010.

    It's gotten to six figures in all 33 home games since.

12. Beaver Stadium

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Location: State College, Pennsylvania

    Opened in: 1960

    Capacity: 106,572 

    Only Michigan has a larger venue than Penn State's Beaver Stadium, but when it comes to an imposing site there's nothing that compares to six figures' worth of people all decked out in white.

    Last October's game against Ohio State marked the seventh time the Nittany Lions had a full-scale whiteout, a tradition that began in 2004 when just the student section did it. Penn State ended up losing in overtime to Ohio State, the eventual national champions, but it wasn't because of a lack of fan support.

    Whatever PSU fans are wearing, though, they're behind their team. Even as the school was hit with major NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, including a bowl ban, attendance still remained in the 90,000s.

11. Camp Randall Stadium

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Location: Madison, Wisconsin

    Opened in: 1917

    Capacity: 80,321

    The oldest stadium in the Big Ten is getting set to celebrate its centennial in a few years, but the facility isn't showing its age. Even if its most defining characteristic is tied to a rap song from the early 1990s.

    Ever since Wisconsin fans started to "Jump Around" in 1998 between the third and fourth quarters to the beat of the House of Pain song, it's become far more difficult for teams to win in Camp Randall Stadium. Not surprisingly, that year the Badgers ended up making their first of two consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and three more times since.

    This everyone-gets-involved act continues to this day, each time causing the old stadium to shimmy and shake.

10. Husky Stadium

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Location: Seattle

    Opened in: 1920

    Capacity: 70,138

    With its views of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains, Husky Stadium is as beautiful on the outside as it is inside. That's even more so after Washington put $280 million into renovating the 95-year-old facility in 2013 to keep it as functional as it was aesthetically pleasing.

    Like Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, its proximity to water makes it possible to "sailgate" before games, with many fans taking their boats rather than packing into cars or buses. That opportunity to relax helps save the energy for kickoff, when this docile setting suddenly becomes raucous and far louder than you'd think because of a pair of cantilevered metal roofs over the north and south sides of the field.

    Husky Stadium is also where the famed (and often reviled) "wave" originated, during a Halloween game in 1981 when Washington beat Stanford, 42-31.

9. McLane Stadium

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Location: Waco, Texas

    Opened in: 2014

    Capacity: 45,140 

    Baylor began its rise from a college football doormat to a power program when Art Briles took the job in 2008 and got the Bears into a bowl game in his third season. Then quarterback Robert Griffin III won the 2011 Heisman Trophy, and two years later Baylor won its first Big 12 title and played in the Fiesta Bowl.

    But Baylor didn't fully arrive until it had a facility that could stack up with the other elite programs, which it now has after McLane Stadium opened in August. The on-campus facility—which replaced the decaying Floyd Casey Stadium that was four miles from the school—cost $266 million and was funded with more than $120 million worth of donations.

    Though it's smaller than only a handful of power-conference stadiums, McLane makes up for it with its beauty and newness. Access to the stadium is via a bridge over the Brazos River, and that side of the field opens out to the waterway.

    "You don't have to have 90,000 seats to wow people and give a great game-day experience for the fans," former ESPN College GameDay host Chris Fowler told John Werner of the Waco Tribune. "If you walked somebody in here and said this is where you're going to play college ball, I would think that’s a good selling point for Baylor."

8. Memorial Stadium (Clemson)

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    Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    Location: Clemson, South Carolina

    Opened in: 1942

    Capacity: 81,500

    Clemson isn't the only college that has a football stadium that can hold more people than reside in the town it's located in. But it stands alone when it comes to the ability to house its entire community in just one section of the venue.

    Less than 14,000 people live in Clemson, South Carolina, but that doesn't stop the Tigers from packing Memorial Stadium on most Saturdays in the fall. And they're all on their feet to cheer on the home team as they make one of the best entrances in college football, running down a hill on the east side of the stadium.

    Along the way they pass Howard's Rock, which was installed at the top of the hill in 1966.

7. Ohio Stadium

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    Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

    Location: Columbus, Ohio

    Opened in: 1922

    Capacity: 104,944

    Shaped like a horseshoe and bringing its tenants plenty of good fortune over the years, Ohio Stadium is as impressive a facility as it was when it opened more than 90 years ago. That original version only seated 66,000 people, which is 33,000 less than the attendance of an Ohio State scrimmage in April, setting the national record for a spring game.

    There's never a shortage of fans in the Horseshoe, and nearly all of them are wearing the Buckeyes' signature red hue. That sea of scarlet provides a welcoming hug to the home team, while for the visitors it resembles the cape a toreador uses to entice a bull to charge.

    "The Horseshoe oozes tradition and excellence that is evident to all who visit," wrote Nick Richardson of RantSports.

6. Sanford Stadium

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Location: Athens, Georgia

    Opened in: 1929

    Capacity: 92,746

    Even though the game itself is meant to be the main attraction at a sports venue, the amenities and quirks that each stadium has are also important. This usually pertains to concessions, video boards, sound system and other such creature comforts, but that's not what makes Georgia's Sanford Stadium stand out.

    How many other places can you go to watch a college football game on a field surrounding by expertly manicured hedges that has its own mausoleum?

    The privet hedges that line the field exist in some form at other stadiums now, but nowhere else will you find a structure that houses deceased mascots. Located in the southwest corner of the stadium, the mausoleum is where the previous eight incarnations of the Uga bulldog have been interred.

5. Michigan Stadium

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    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

    Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

    Opened in: 1927

    Capacity: 109,901

    It's known as the Big House, and that's not just a cute nickname. It's a literal one.

    The largest crowd to ever attend a college football game (115,109) did so in 2013 at Michigan Stadium, when Notre Dame made what might be its final visit to Ann Arbor and fell 41-30 to Michigan. Odds are that mark could get topped this November when the Wolverines host defending national champion Ohio State in the first clash between coaches Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer.

    But Michigan Stadium is known for more than just its sheer size. It also has some of the best sight lines around and despite being wide open in terms of its configuration doesn't come off as cold and unforgiving, even during the briskest of fall Saturdays.

4. Notre Dame Stadium

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    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

    Location: South Bend, Indiana

    Opened in: 1930

    Capacity: 80,795 (expanding to 85,000)

    If not for a Thanksgiving Day game against Air Force in 1973—which it won by 33 points en route to a national championship—Notre Dame would be riding a 292-game sellout streak. Instead, it's only 243 games, most of which have been attended by the same devoted fans and alumni year after year.

    A 21,000-seat expansion was completed before the 1997 season, and work is underway on $400 million in renovations that will add another 4,000 seats as well as a new press box and several attached buildings.

    Even without the additions, Notre Dame Stadium would be deserving of this ranking because of its history and the homey nature that you feel once inside. Though the thick grass has recently been replaced by artificial turf, it's still one of those stadiums that makes you think back to the early days of college football when Notre Dame first established itself as an elite power.

3. Autzen Stadium

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    Ryan Kang/Associated Press

    Location: Eugene, Oregon

    Opened in: 1967

    Capacity: 54,000

    In 2013 the NCAA released a video that ranked what it considered the five loudest college football stadiums in the country. Oregon's Autzen Stadium came in second, despite being by far the smallest of the venues listed.

    Size doesn't always matter when it comes to great stadiums, as Autzen has shown by creating one of the best and most unique home-field advantages in FBS. Though there are stadiums with twice as many seats, the reason Autzen proves to be so loud is the way it's configured—including an overhang along one side of the field—that causes sound to ricochet off of it and back toward the turf.

    It's also helped that Oregon has had one of the most consistent programs of the past decade, and as a result it has sold out every game since midway through the 1999 season and has been at no less than 104 percent of capacity ever since.

2. Tiger Stadium

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

    Opened in: 1924

    Capacity: 102,321

    Even before LSU added another 10,000 seats to the south end zone for the 2014 season, Tiger Stadium was an ominous place for opponents to visit. Now it's just bigger and louder than before, but no less imposing.

    Though the Tigers lost twice at home last season, since 2005 they have a 62-9 record in the stadium that's become known as "Death Valley." Nearly every game there is now played at night, adding to the aura since the lights and sounds raining down from the stands seems like they're holding back the darkness from above.

    "Baton Rouge happens to be the worst place in the world for a visiting team," former Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant said, per Rivals.com. "It's like being inside a drum."

1. Rose Bowl

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Location: Pasadena, California

    Opened in: 1921

    Capacity: 92,542

    While UCLA has only played its games at this off-campus stadium since 1982, the Bruins and the Rose Bowl have had a symbiotic relationship long before that. UCLA appeared in seven Rose Bowls between 1943 and 1976, then represented the Pac-12 in that game three of the first four seasons after becoming permanent tenants.

    But the Rose Bowl doesn't get the top spot in our rankings because of its connection to just one school. For more than 90 years it has played host to the game known as "the grandaddy of them all."

    Unlike other classic bowls, like the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar, it's remained in the same place ever since.

    A simple bowl shape that has no towering upper decks, there's no bad seat in the house. It's the kind of stadium that makes it onto the bucket list of even non-sports fans because of its place in history.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.